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What We Know About Autism: Separating the Science From the Scandal

What We Know About Autism

Shortly after pulling a controversial documentary linking autism and common childhood vaccinations from the Tribeca Film Festival , Robert De Niro issued a statement explaining that festival organizers and members of the scientific community “do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”

Instead, his decision has sparked a conversation that has recirculated discredited theories, leaving even the most informed among us feeling slightly confused. As it happens, there is no proven link between vaccines and autism spectrum disorders, which are characterized by difficulties with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. The theory’s origins lie in a study of 12 children published in 1998 in the British medical journal The Lancet .

The article blamed the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine typically given to babies between 12 and 15 months for the eventual onset of behavioral problems among the children. It was retracted in 2010, and Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who led the research, has since been stripped of his medical license. “It’s positively clear there is no relationship between the vaccine and autism,” says Eric Hollander, MD, director of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York. According to the CDC, one in 68 American children—one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls—is on the autism spectrum. The disorder is 10

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